Friday, August 29, 2014

At least he didn't ask when my baby is due

There's an Indian man in my office building whom I occasionally run into in the elevator, or while smoking outside. I don't know who he is or what he does, but he's incredibly friendly and always inquires after my workload, my progress with training and client issues.

I saw him this morning, and he asked about my overall comfort level regarding my knowledge of the complicated job that I do. I told him I'm at about 25%, which sounds terrible, but isn't far from what is expected - when I was hired, they told me point-blank it would take 3 to 4 years before I am really comfortable with the position and everything it entails.

Then he asked how long I've been here, and I told him a little over a year, but that I was out on leave for several months of that year, so I'm probably a little behind where I *should* be, and it's getting a little better every week. 

Up to this point, the man's questions seemed perfectly normal. This is the kind of office banter that happens between two people who don't know each other very well, once the topics of traffic and weather have been exhausted. If the people are particularly good at nonsense chatting, they'll remember things from the previous conversation and ask about the status of those things (which he was doing, in this case.)

But then he asked me if my leave of absence was due to a psychological disorder or a physical disorder.

Who...asks that kind of thing, especially of a person whose name they do not even know? I was floored.

In general, I'm a big advocate of discussing mental health. I think it's a very important subject, not only to me, but to millions of people and the family of those people. If someone asked me the same question at a party, I would have told them the truth, although the level of detail would depend upon the context of the conversation and how well I knew the person.

I lied to this man and told him it was a physical condition, and his face appeared to relax a little bit.

Which means now I wish I'd told him I was locked in a psychiatric ward because I was a danger to society and capable of anything, but now I'm medicated and monitored 24 hours a day, so he shouldn't be too concerned.

That reaction would have been priceless.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shock-free

It started on Friday night with a sore throat, and by Sunday night, I felt like death.

I knew it wasn't the flu because I get shots every year and my fever wasn't high enough. It felt like an upper respiratory infection, which is pretty common for me. Pneumonia as a child and smoking as an adult often results in walking pneumonia or bronchitis, and I know what those feel like.

Side note: When I had pneumonia as a child, it was the most terrifying experience of my life. I could not breathe without stabbing pain in my lungs, except when I was sleeping, which was about 23 hours of the day. I could feel myself drowning. Rather than take me to the doctor, my mother physically dressed me (I was too weak to sit up, let alone get dressed), then took me to CHURCH and had people lay their hands on me to pray for my healing. In response, I threw up my orange popsicle and passed out. When she realized I wasn't miraculously healed, my mother waited 12 hours for urgent care to open so it would cost less to have me treated. It was hell.

Flach forward to now: On Monday morning, I dragged myself out of bed and went to the closest Minute Clinic, an establishment I can't recommend highly enough.The biggest issue I've had over the many visits (colds, sinus infections, shingles) was a long wait time because I wasn't the only sick person in town on those days.

This time, however, the Minute Clinic network server was acting up. It took four nurses, an IT guy, and three reboots to be able to check in and be seen. Not a big deal - god knows computers wreck my day at least once a week - but I was already weak, dizzy and wanting to crawl back into bed.

Finally, I was able to be seen by a nurse practitioner, who asked all of the standard questions, including when was the first day of my last period. I NEVER remember this information. I always try to think back to the last messy sex and do backwards math. It's basically just a guess, but I figure it's not all that important unless I'm being tested for pregnancy.

This time, I estimated 10 days, and the nurse looked up sharply and urgently asked, "Do you use tampons?"

I do.

Then she asked, "Have you heard of toxic shock syndrome? You didn't 'forget' something in there, did you?"

And then I panicked and died right there inside CVS Pharmacy. Because I have been terrified of TSS for as long as I've known what a tampon is. The risk of TSS is pretty darn low, but man do they ever harp on that issue to terrified/embarrassed 11 year-olds when they get their first period.

Fortunately, the nurse realized that my symptoms (aside from fever and flushed face) did not equal You Have Forgotten a Tampon Within Your Canals, and moved along to ultimately diagnose bronchitis and an ear infection.

I thought it was a little irresponsible of this nurse to TERRIFY me, even briefly, over something that was very clearly not the problem.

But I did go directly home and lock myself in the bathroom and twist my body around until I was able to make sure that my lady-den was, indeed, vacant.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Glossy

At this point in my life, I can't help but wonder what might have been different. I've disappointed so many people, most of all myself, and sometimes it's embarrassing just crawling out of bed in the morning. Like I expect people to be shocked I can even show my face anymore.

I remember that feeling as a kid, the one where you project what you think might be your future, play it in your head like a black and white movie or, in my case, acted it out in the woods beside my house, and it always went something like:

Grow up

Make money

Get married

Have children

Eat all of the candy you want

In the faaaaar distance, know what it's like to be old

Adulthood always had this glossy sheen in my mind. It would be magical in the sense that I could stay up as late as I wanted. It was desirable in the way that I craved the start of summer vacation. It would be fulfilling because, well, it fucking had to be, right?

My reality went something like:

Fall in love too young, and without really knowing what love meant

Marrying out of a feeling of duty, knowing it would end quickly

Fall in love again, this time mistaking ultimate companionship for ultimate passion

Lose a very wanted pregnancy, and with it, a part of my heart forever

Divorce a second time

Make unfortunate sexual choices

Make unfortunate monetary choices

Use alcohol as a crutch until it became an addiction instead

Daydream about suicide for years before attempting it

Every day now, I wake up and get out of bed. I drive in traffic and go to work. I worry about the debt I have. I worry about the dental appointment I keep forgetting to schedule. I try not to think about the family member who doesn't care for my company. I wonder if my dad still loses sleep worrying about what I'll do next. I consider whether I'll ever want a relationship with my mother. I try to find god. I drive home in traffic and spend the evening contemplating domestic duties, then try to sleep, with the guilt of those unfinished chores hovering over me.

But now I have a partner in all of the banalities of adult life. Someone whose presence makes me forget sometimes just how tedious life can be. Whose laugh reminds me that there is joy mixed in with all of the bullshit, humor in the painful memories. Someone who holds my hand when it's too hard to keep going, and that grip distracts me long enough to get to the next little crest, where I can see a little more of the light in the sky, and I think maybe the next stretch of path isn't so impossible.

Someone for whom it's worth going on, even when that little girl inside of me doesn't want to be a grownup anymore.

Someone who helps to make this life glossy in the way I always hoped it would be.

Friday, August 22, 2014

I'm doing it wrong



For those of you who have spent any significant period of time working in a cubicle farm, you know that the printer is the life-blood of the office. 

If the printer jams (or god forbid it breaks and needs a service call), you might as well just go home. There’s no reason to pretend everything is fine, because the world is ending. We’re all going to die.

Fixing the issue requires following a complicated set of screen-prompted steps, opening trays and doors, craning my neck to spot the offending pages, and trying to yank them out in one piece. If the paper rips in half, you’re fucked. You can’t reach it – I’ve tried shoving my hand into the wheels to fish out a corner piece, and it never works. 

There’s always one person in the office that is considered the Printer Whisperer. That person seems to know something is wrong before anything is technically wrong. They can find jammed pages that fourteen other bewildered people didn’t see. They know how to change the weird toner tubes without getting blue dust all over the ceiling. 

I* walked up to our shared printer the other day and noticed that the orange warning light was blinking, and that my pages had not printed before the !!ORANGE!! doom began. This is never a good sign. Never. 

Imagine my relief when I realized the paper tray was empty. Even this stupid monkey can fix an empty paper tray. 

I ripped open the wrapper on a new ream of paper and flopped the pile down into the tray. I was about to close the drawer and go along my merry way when the Printer Whisperer appeared directly behind me and said, “You put the paper in upside down.”

Just…what? Think about that for a second. I put a stack of 8.5” by 11” standard copy paper…upside down? 

I thought she was joking, but one look at her face told me that she was disproportionately serious about the matter.

It will jam if you put it in that way.” 

Then the Printer Whisperer took out the stack of paper, flipped it over, and put it back into the drawer. And walked away. 

I still don’t really understand what happened, except now I’m trying to remember how I opened that package and how I removed the stack so I can figure out WHICH WAY IS UP.  

*This isn’t really my story. It happened to a friend whom I work with, and the moment she told me, I knew I was going to steal this story. Because WHAT THE FUCK. Only in an office. It’s almost as good as the passive aggressive signs people hang when someone wears cologne and someone else doesn’t like when people wear cologne, but that person takes off her shoes all the time and her feet look like voles. With talons.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

PCH and the 710

There's all kinds of missing pieces in the flow of my blogging right now, but I'll back-fill the story later. Let's just pretend that you already knew that Nigel and I fell madly in love in a Japanese garden in Van Nuys and then moved into a tiny studio together in Long Beach.

Seven weeks after we met for the first time. And let's pretend that making such a move is not insane.

We chose to live in Long Beach because, Nigel assured me, it was "kind of in the middle" of our respective places of employment, which were about 55 miles apart. Had I bothered to fact-check him, I would have realized that I was moving 16 miles from my work, but he was moving 40 miles from his. Which means he either really liked* me, or he just really wanted 24/7 access to sex.

*I like to assume he still likes me.

Since that move in mid-March, I've tried to figure out an accurate way to describe our new neighborhood. The easy explanation is that we live in the ghetto.

It's not quite that simplistic though, because 1) Los Angeles has many areas that are far worse than ours, and 2) despite the inherent danger, it's also pretty awesome.

We're very close to the beach (and like many here, we almost never bother to take advantage of the beach proximity), and we're very close to the freeways, which is one of the first things I learned upon moving to California. Freeway access is bigger than Jesus here.

It took a couple of months for me to figure out how to handle the constant barrage of requests from the homeless people I encounter. They are everywhere. I see them so often that I've observed that the ones with shopping carts are considered second class citizens to those who use alternate luggage totes, such as baby strollers. I've seen them argue over which cart belongs to which person, and I can't say I blame them, because those carts all look the same to me.

Nigel and I have "adopted" one of the baby stroller ladies whom we just call Our Homeless Lady. She sleeps in the same alcove almost every night, and we often have to park near her on street sweeping nights when parking nearer our house is occupied. One nights we don't see her, we always wonder if she's okay.

Once, we attempted to give her a whole pizza that was left over from a dinner out, and she Lost. Her. Shit.

"No no no no no. Uh uh. I ain't takin' dat pizza," she said to me. "If it was just you, I'd take it. But you wit dat maaaaan of yours, so nuh uh. No."

I think I responded with, "It's...it's just a pizza," but she was not interested.

Nigel was on the other side of the street, but she saw him, and his proximity implied some kind of danger. We assume it's due to her part time job as (what appears to be) a prostitute, but I've never been able to sort out why taking our pizza was any more likely to get her arrested than the subsequent times I've seen her hanging into the passenger side windows of cars in the middle of the night.

(Speaking of prostitution, I learned a very important lesson at about 1:30 in the morning while walking about 3/4 of a mile from where I parked to where we live. I was solicited for the very same activity by two different cars on that walk, and immediately determined that walking alone at that time is never wise, but especially on nights when I'm dressed up like a groupie-whore after one of Nigel's gigs. Bad idea.)

Another time, I gave a woman some money and she promptly bought booze (and nothing else). Since that time, I usually keep a case of water in my car and hand those out when people ask me for money. If I'm without my water bottles, I tell them I don't have any cash, just my debit card. That usually works, although sometimes they ask me to go get cash out of an ATM.

Someone approached me a few weeks ago asking for assistance with a court fee that was preventing her from getting custody of her children - it was all a big misunderstanding, she explained, but it had to be paid, so she was hustling in the parking lot of the 99 Cent Store. She didn't accept my water bottle that day

At first, my instinct was to give money to everyone who asked, but I quickly realized I was outnumbered and the requests come almost daily, and also that I'm always broke and can't afford to support other people, so I had to shut that instinct down.

Generally they are friendly. Sometimes they are clearly strung out or insane, and those I try to avoid all together because they scare me. I see a little bit of myself in the crazy ones, and I know that they could be...less than safe to interact with. Sometimes we see someone with a cart and a few aluminum cans, but an entire pharmacy's worth of prescription bottles lined up on the sidewalk beside them. Sometimes we mistake people as homeless and crazy, who are really just in need of a shower.

There are frequent street fights, frequent emergency vehicle sirens, and frequent helicopter-lead man hunts. One week we heard nothing but car alarms all night long, every night.

In addition to the Outside Neighbors, as I think of them, we have the Inside Neighbors. Our place is the center unit of a triplex: on one side is a large, rotating cast of Mexican immigrants with so many children, I can't keep track of which kid belongs to which adult. That family just welcomed a newborn baby boy, and it turns out the baby's father is plays Latin pop guitar on the side and speaks several languages. Currently, he's taking lessons in Italian.

On the other side live two ex-Marines and one of their wives. They are the ones we interact with most, and they are very nice. And loud. Very loud. They scream at each other a lot, which is never fun to listen to, but is especially alarming now that we've become aware of the ARSENAL of weapons they own. I'm always praying their fights don't escalate into gun battles because our shared walls have the strength of a wet paper towel.

They are also music lovers, and they *scree* when Nigel gets out his guitar and lets them make requests. We've shared several nights of music and chatter, and those moments make me incredibly happy. All we're missing is the bonfire.

Our unit itself is (by guesstimate only) about 450 square feet, and consists of one long, skinny room which serves as bedroom, living room and dining room, as well as a small closet, small bathroom, and microscopic kitchen. It is not possible to have company because there is nowhere for them to sit. Over the months, we've come to realize our little place is almost everything we could ever want.

The hardest part of getting used to this living arrangement has been that our walls are incredibly thin and our window practically touches the public sidewalk, and...well...Nigel and I like each other very much. So occasionally I find myself wondering if we're making inappropriate sounds that are audible to those around us.

Then I realize we have neither screaming children nor screaming adults, so if our neighbors don't appreciate our happy noises, they can go fuck themselves.



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Groupie



Now that I feel like I can write whatever I like…I can’t find a damn thing to say. Figures, and I should have known better because I’ve done the same thing before.

I like to learn the hard way except minus the “learn” part. I just like things to be hard. Speaking of hard...reminds me of some super fun things I've done recently.

Nigel’s band Too Bad played a gig at the Orange County [gay] Pride Festival over the weekend. Except it’s not really Nigel’s band, he’s just a part of the band, and not an original member, so I don’t know how to explain that exactly. 

Nigel plays guitar and sings in the band Too Bad. That works.

I was exorbitantly happy to attend a pride festival again – it’s been forever, and I have so much fun whenever I do attend. The people-watching is FABULOUS. I’ve read some memes online that say things like, “Straight people don’t feel the need to throw themselves a parade or a festival, so what the hell, gay people?” To that I say, then how do you explain the Superbowl?   

First thing I see upon arrival? Two hot gay men in teeny, weeny speedos. ThankyaJesus. 

Only thing that would have been better was seeing Nigel perform in a speedo, but thanks to the heterosexual pride festival known as the Superbowl, he’s learned to avoid any unnecessary wardrobe malfunction situations.

It was the smallest pride festival I’ve attended, perhaps due to the relatively conservative area, but the people were beautiful. So many families and children, men and women - some really, really straight attendees and many really, really gay. 

It’s been a while since I received free sex products, but I got some that day! 

Too Bad almost always has super hot female dancers on stage with them, and this time they had a new cast – these women were guh-hor-gee-us and had an amazing routine that really worked, IMHO. Hula hoops and thigh-high boots and everything. And the band – of course – killed their performance, losing dozens of collective pounds of water weight in the process. 

(I really need to get a cord to connect my camera to my computer because I have so many pictures to go here, but alas. For now, the photographic evidence is trapped in my Cannon.)

From there, Nigel and I went up to Culver City to a bar called the Scarlett Lady Saloon where he did the vocals for another band called Redondo Bitch, a classic rock cover band with an amazing team of sometimes-rotating players. 

My cousins even came to that show, driving about 35 miles to do so, which is what I like to call A Big Deal. So cool that they made it out and it seemed like they had a damn fine time. 

Sunday, Nigel dragged me into the recording studio to “observe” a vocal session for his country band called Morgan Ridge. They’re polishing up a demo so they can start playing all over the place, I’m really excited to be able to share a couple of their original songs when I get the green light. 

I know, I know – I don’t *get* excited about country music. Unless I’m sleeping with [one guy in] the band. 

Anyone ever watch a vocal recording session? It was an interesting process, and the electronic equipment was so cool. But unless you’re the one making the album, you’re probably going to sleep through most of it. It reminded me of rehearsing for All-State/Region back in my Choir Nerd days: same 3 bars of the same 1 song, 3,000 times in a row, until it’s perfect. Captivating.

And then on Sunday I sang! Out loud! In front of more than just the mirror in my car! And the alley cats didn’t even drown themselves. 

So it was an incredibly musical weekend, but I’m basically deaf now. 

Is it too late to buy ear plugs?

I don’t understand how this groupie thing works yet.

Monday, August 04, 2014

New normal

This is something I absolutely do not want to tell you, which is how I know that I need to.

At the beginning of this year, I was miserable enough that I tried to take my own life. It was reckless and unsuccessful, probably because I was in such a bad state of mind that I didn't do my suicide homework to determine if what I was going to try might actually work. 

All I knew was that people die from taking too many pills and drinking too much alcohol, so I combined the two and figured the rest would fall into place.

I didn't count on still being coherent enough, though blacked out, to start wandering around in the house where I was living, clearly showing the other people in the house that Something Was Wrong. Those people took me to the emergency room and saved my life.

Except, the emergency room staff didn't have to pump my stomach because, although I swallowed dozens of pills, none of those pills were narcotics and none of them were dangerous enough to kill me. Nor had I drank more than I probably did the night before. I'd have been better off jumping in front of a delivery truck.

Prior to getting from "wanting to die" to actually "trying to die," I'd spent several months drinking myself to sleep, and making other various alcohol-related bad decisions. It was a symptom of my depression, I figured, as it always has been. I've been depressed for as long as I can remember, long before I ever began drinking.

One of the conditions of my release from the 51/50 behavioral health hospital ward was that I address my alcohol abuse. That included going to Alcoholics Anonymous and taking Antabuse, which prescribed by my psychiatrist(s).

I have a lot of really positive memories of my A.A. communities, and in the beginning, those meetings really did help to save my life and my sanity. They gave me hope for a better, happier life. They showed me that I didn't need to drink every time I was feeling anxious or depressed. They showed me that I wasn't alone, wasn't the first to try offing myself, wasn't the first to disappoint and horrify my friends and family. They showed me that I didn't truly want to die.

As time went on, however, my attendance at those meeting started to drag me down. I wanted to be happy, and I would be feeling very happy, but then I'd go to my Wednesday, Saturday or various other meetings and leave them feeling depressed, anxious and sad all over again. I began to see the intra/inter-group drama (spouses cheating with other A.A. members, women who wanted to explain to me how stupid and wrong I am about various matters, angry older men who didn't like certain harmless behavior during meetings, males behaving inappropriately towards me).

I began to realize that I was getting happier in my day-to-day life, but my 12-step life was holding part of me in a dark place.

I bowed out of those groups in the worst possible way, but the only way I knew how - I quit attending, I quit calling my sponsor, I blocked all of the A.A. people on Facebook, and I didn't answer my phone when people tried to call. I know they believe that I'm out there "running amuck," as they say in the program, and I let them think that. People come and go out of the rooms of 12-step programs every day. I figured I'd just be another one of them.

Except that in some ways, I really am running amuck - at least in the way that alcoholics mean when they say it. I am no longer totally sober.

That is going to surprise, scare and probably anger some of you whom I didn't tell. Others probably already figured it had happened. I honestly intended to hide this forever and somehow pretend with some people that I was dry as a bone to this day.

Here's the problem with that facade: some of you have seen me with a beer in my hand and know better. Some of you ask me frequently how many days of sobriety I have now. Some of you ask me if I'm still "working the program." I've been lying to you, and I am sorry.

And I don't want to lie to you anymore.

They say you can't make a normal drinker out of an alcoholic, and I suppose that might be true. I'll always be more prone than others to return to abusing alcohol if I'm stressed, angry or even just bored. Our definition of "abuse" probably will never align, either. There are simply too many variables.

Here's what I do know: I. Am. Happy. Now.

I don't cry myself to sleep, not at all. I haven't had suicidal ideation in a very long time. I don't feel a compulsion to drink alcohol when I'm feeling anxiety, or when I'm frustrated or stressed or angry. I don't have the urge to do dangerous things, nor do I want to sabotage my relationships, my employment or my new life in California. I am in an extremely happy relationship with the man of my dreams and my very best friend. I am incredibly lucky, and I know it.

I'm lucky to live in this beautiful place. I'm lucky to have all of you in my life. I'm lucky to have a roof over my head, a dependable job, and so many other things that I didn't used to give a fuck about.

This is not to say I haven't been pissed off or scared or exhausted in the last few months - quite the contrary, in fact. I feel those things very strongly, probably more now than I have in a long time, because now when those things arise - I allow myself to feel them.

I haven't taken medication for anxiety, depression or bi-polar disorder in about two months now. I haven't once felt out of control, crazy or dangerous to myself. I haven't wanted to cut myself. I haven't lashed out in anger at anyone. I've made mistakes, absolutely. I have a few things I need to apologize for, but I'm working on it.

It's been incredibly difficult to adjust to dealing with my human emotions without the buffer of pharmaceutical assistance, or at least a case of Heineken. But I'm learning to actually enjoy the highs and lows that come with normal emotional reactions. I'm not allowing how I feel to directly correspond with how I behave.

It's in that way that I'm learning to enjoy having a beer or a glass of wine, without the compulsion to drink the entire bottle or drunk-walk to the liquor store because I ran out of alcohol before I blacked out.

I do not believe I am immune from this possibly becoming a problem again at some point. I don't believe that this is a good idea for everyone - hell, it hasn't been long enough for me to know whether this is a good idea for myself. I know that I'm taking a chance here.

Buying, finding and drinking booze is no longer the primary reason I get out of bed in the day. It's not a reason at all anymore. However, if I continue to hide this development from everyone except those who see me with a beer in my hand, I will be living a dually-dishonest life that I'm not comfortable with anymore.

For the opportunity to be my best self, thank you for letting me share this with you, even though it is probably the last thing you want to hear.

Now that this particular weight is falling away, I'll be able to more freely tell you about the happy things I've found.